With names like Matt Groening and Lynda Barry on the alumni roster, The Evergreen State College is known for fostering big time cartoonists and animators. A bunch of them will visit Evergreen tomorrow for what's called the Fishbowl Seminar facilitated by faculty member Ruth Hayes.
PR for the event states: "Animation, comics, and graphic novels are a great Evergreen tradition dating to the early years of the College. They are as much a part of Evergreen's history as the Mods, Red Square, and slugs on the walkway."
Guests for the event include Groening and Craig Bartlett, Drew Christie, Megan Kelso, Tommy Thompson and Steve Willis, all Evergreen alum. I talked to Frank Hussey, owner of Danger Room Comics in Olympia, about the event.
The Weekly Volcano: Which, if any, of these cartoonists have you met personally?
Frank Hussey: I've hosted Megan as a guest of honor for the Olympia Comics Festival twice now. She is the type of person who makes you feel like a friend right away - just an absolutely beautiful person. She is one of the most enjoyable guests we've had - funny, cheerful, and creative.
Steve Willis is local and has become a good friend over the years, both to me and to the Olympia Comics Festival. He is a delightful oddball and iconoclast who seems to take great pride in how few comics shops carry his work. He is a lover of comics who reads a great deal but keeps very little to none. In fact, Willis started an underground/alternative comics collection at a university and still donates the comics he gets to that collection. You'd have to ask him which university that is. Steve is also a natural raconteur and I love to get him started on a story. One of the odd bits from his career is a "fan" zine which specialized in mocking "The Family Circus."
I've only met Matt Groening briefly but he's been in the shop a couple times. He seems like a great guy. He tends to buy the most over-the-top disgusting humor comics we get for the store. Danger Room has a great sketch which Groening and fellow cartoonist and Evergreen alum Lynda Barry did for the shop.
Volcano: Are you familiar with their work?
Hussey: I'm really not an animation guy so I may have seen some of the animation work but I can't name any of it. I've probably read all the cartoonist's work though, often multiple times.
I probably first saw Groening's cartoons in the old Rocket paper out of Seattle back when I was a kid in Wenatchee. I first saw Willis a little later via a paper which covered mini-comics but whose title I'm fuzzing on. Megan's work I discovered after moving to Olympia.
Volcano: Do you carry their works in your stores?
Hussey: You betcha. As well as comics by several other Evergreen alums.
Volcano: Can you comment on what you most like about any or all of them?
Hussey: Megan's work is very sweet and her drawing style very approachable but her stories always have some weight to them. She is brilliant at developing characters the reader becomes fascinated by while including larger themes as well. She's one of the most accomplished cartoonists who address gender issues and handles the topic in such a way as to be subtle and nuanced but still challenging. Several of my favorite pieces by her are her short stories and my very favorite is probably still "The Queen of the Black Black" which is the titular story of her story collection.
Steve Willis makes comics that are totally gonzo but still really accessible. His work brims with fun and creativity. He was part of that very first generation who discovered that with these new photo copier machines one could make one's own little self-published magazines on the cheap. He has always made comics with the primary intention of sharing them with friends, family and other cartoonists; not as something he would ever make money on. Of course, the years pass and now there are Steve Willis collectors who pay real money online for some of his more rare pieces. Steve has a real knack for creating specific scenes or lines that get imprinted on my brain and stick there for years.
I don't really need to say anything about Groening, do I? Let's see ...
One unusual thing is that the Simpsons Comics are actually good. Licensed comics tend to be pretty bleh and the Simpsons are a major exception. But then Groening actually publishes them himself and hires the people who work there. Every year the customers at Danger Room Comics vote on the best comics of the preceding year in various categories. This year, as in several years previous, Simpsons won for Best Licensed Comic.
I guess I wish that a tenth of the people who love the Simpsons also read his Life In Hell comics. Matt Groening is always funny.
Volcano: Do you plan to attend the seminar?
Do you have any special in-store events or promotions planned in connection with it?
Hussey: The Comics Festival and Danger Room hope to be involved in some way but there is nothing I can guarantee 100 percent at this point.
Volcano: What else would you like to say?
Hussey: After reading all the above would you like to change that to "And are you finally going to shut up now?"
It is exciting and validating to witness comics getting more acknowledgment as a medium equal to any other. Getting to learn from these talented cartoonists who have been such a big part of comics growing up over the last few decades is a great opportunity.
By the way, you might want to make some mention of Lynda Barry and Charles Burns - two extremely successful Evergreen alum cartoonists who are not part of this event. They were within a year of Groening and both worked with him on the Cooper Point Journal (college paper). Groening convinced Barry to try cartooning in the first place and Charles Burns, you may have noticed, has a similar name to a certain Simpsons character.
The fishbowl seminar will be held May 18 in the College Recreation Center Gymnasium from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. For information go to http://www.evergreen.edu/40/return/animation. Danger Room Comics is at 201 W 4th Ave.,Olympia, (360) 705-3050.